When Vishal Saxena, 36, was a boy growing up in Lucknow, India, he was mostly “into computers and robots. I dreamed of being a scientist, an engineer.” Talk about wish fulfillment. Today, Saxena can don several hats without exaggeration – engineer, scientist, inventor and futurist. He is an associate professor with tenure at Boise State University where he works mostly with computers. And robots.
His 15+ page resume lists dozens of peer-reviewed papers and book chapters, and a slew of awards and honors he has received – including the prestigious Air Force Office of Sponsored Research Young Investigator award ($360,000), and the National Science Foundation Early Faculty Career Development Award ($500,000). The latter was for Saxena’s work in developing brain-inspired electronic chips.
He has pioneered new research in analog photonic integrated circuits and neural-inspired computing chips, and is a globally recognized leader in analog integrated circuits as well as in the neuromorphic computer arena – of the latter, he was quoted in an article that was published in MIT Technology Review.
In addition, Saxena is involved in the community and is focused on getting more and more young people excited about what he’s excited about. He reaches out to high schools, to both teachers and students, doing his best to inspire them “to learn and build circuits.”
Amy Moll, dean of the College of Engineering and professor of materials science and engineering, says Saxena is dedicated to promoting science and engineering to the Treasure Valley community. In a letter recommending him for this award, Moll writes: “He’s breaking down barriers, making science and engineering accessible, fun and cool.”
Saxena says he was greatly influenced by his parents and the sacrifices they made to ensure his education. He also credits his teachers, professors and faculty colleagues “who have inspired me to push the envelope and pursue research that not only has transformative technical impact, but also benefits the society at large.”
Saxena says it’s important to “figure out your passions and just follow them.” Looking to the future, he wants to create an ecosystem to pursue research, workforce development, and entrepreneurship activities in path-breaking technologies that can sustain regional and global growth in semiconductor and information technology industries.
“To achieve this I plan to ‘harness light to transform electronic chips’ and pursue collaborative research in creating ‘sensible machines’ that can autonomously learn complex patterns and make decisions, leading to wider adoption of emerging advances in artificial intelligence,” he says.
When asked if the notion of a computer working with a human-like brain is at all scary, Saxena laughs. He says to think of it less like a “Big Brother” scenario and more like “a smarter Siri. Or, like the talking computer on Star Trek. From Star Trek has come a lot of technology,” Saxena says.
Most memorable airplane trip: “When I went to Cancun. I could see the island from the sky. Cancun is beautiful.”